WWE WrestleMania: Most Controversial Moments in PPV's History
WrestleMania may be WWE's annual celebration of all things sports entertainment, but that does not mean it is without controversial moments.
Over the course of 32 years, there have been several occurrences that have sparked buzz and discussion for the wrong reasons. From questionable outcomes in marquee matches to extenuating circumstances that have rendered iconic moments erased from the history books, the event has housed several instances in which controversy reigned supreme.
As unsatisfying, heartbreaking or damning as those moments may prove to be, they are essential in making The Showcase of the Immortals the unforgettable experience it has become.
Ahead of an April 2 event rife with the potential for further controversy, especially in the case of the Roman Reigns-Undertaker bout, journey back through annals of time and relive these seven moments that went a long way toward helping define WrestleMania as the greatest night in professional wrestling and, more importantly, the most controversial.
7. Daniel Bryan Loses in 18 Seconds (WrestleMania XXVIII)
When one traces the origins of the Yes Movement that dominated Vince McMahon's programming and culminated in Daniel Bryan's WWE World Championship victory at WrestleMania XXX, you must revisit the same Showcase of the Immortals from two years earlier, when Bryan's greatest indignity unfolded in front of a worldwide audience.
At WrestleMania XXVIII in Miami, the disrespect WWE Creative showed Bryan ignited a spark among fans that would lead to the regular hijacking of Raw, SmackDown and pay-per-views, as audiences threw their support behind the bearded wonder.
Just moments before a World Heavyweight Championship match against Sheamus was set to kick off the night's festivities, Bryan planted a kiss on girlfriend AJ Lee. As the bell rang and Bryan turned to face his opponent, he was greeted by a Brogue Kick. The 2012 Royal Rumble winner scored the pinfall victory and title in shocking fashion.
In 18 seconds.
After years of working hard, busting his ass to achieve the honor of competing on the grand stage, Bryan was thoroughly disrespected and humbled on the most prestigious night his profession has to offer in less than half a minute.
His story is not a sad one, though.
The love and admiration fans had for Bryan became more than evident on that evening, sparking a run for the submission specialist that would reach its peak two years later at the same show at which he endured his greatest frustration.
6. A Heel Victory in WrestleMania's Main Event (WrestleMania 2000)
For the first 15 years of its existence, WrestleMania had never ended with a heel standing triumphantly to close out the show.
That all changed in 2000, when Triple H defeated The Rock, Mick Foley and The Big Show in a Fatal 4-Way Elimination match.
The Game entered Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim with the WWE Championship around his waist, flanked by wife Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, the hottest character in the sport and its most hated villain. He had managed to become the rare heel entire shows were built around, yet fans had every expectation that he would drop the title to Rock, unarguably the most beloved star in the business.
Few could have foreseen the swerve that would alter the expected outcome.
Vince McMahon, in the corner of The People's Champion, betrayed Rock and helped his (until then, hated) son-in-law retain his title in one of the most shocking and controversial conclusions to a WrestleMania main event ever.
The sanctity of the show had been destroyed. No longer could fans tune in expecting the storybook ending they had become so familiar with over the course of the previous 15 years. In the new millennium, there were no guarantees, and it made for a much more exciting product.
5. Fans Boo Goldberg and Brock Lesnar Out of the Building (WrestleMania XX)
Two of the most dominant Superstars in WWE history met in the marquee match of WrestleMania XX.
Goldberg and Brock Lesnar were the most unstoppable forces in professional wrestling when they took to the squared circle for one of the last legitimate dream matches that existed at the time.
News that broke prior to the match, though, extinguished any and all excitement and anticipation surrounding it.
Lesnar had opted to leave WWE to pursue a less grueling career in the National Football League while Goldberg had decided not to re-sign with the promotion. Suddenly, the contest was a lame duck with little or no consequence for the WWE product.
With no one to root for beside the special guest referee, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the fans inside the historic Madison Square Garden turned on the bout.
Chants of "you sold out" were followed by loud, passionate jeers. When Goldberg and Lesnar defiantly sandbagged the crowd, opting to sleepwalk through their presentation, the disgust fans had for both men grew louder and more vile.
By the time Goldberg dropped Lesnar with a Jackhammer and scored the win, the only thing fans cared about was seeing Austin stun both men right out of WWE.
He did just that, bringing an end to one of the more embarrassing moments in WrestleMania history.
4. Sgt. Slaughter's Iraqi Sympathizer Headlines (WrestleMania VII)
Sgt. Slaughter underwent a character change in 1990 that raised eyebrows and fueled controversy.
An Iraqi sympathizer who pledged allegiance to brutal dictator Saddam Hussein, he became the most despised man in professional wrestling. Vowing to bury Hulkamania the same way Hussein would the United States, he drew the most venomous reactions of his entire career.
No longer the hero he had once been, he entered WrestleMania VII as the WWE champion.
His opponent? The man who had supplanted him as the supporter of all things red, white and blue: Hulk Hogan.
Slaughter would bloody Hogan, but in the end, The Hulkster captured the title and leave the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena waving the stars and stripes.
No happy ending, though, could make up for the bad taste left in fans' mouths by the blatant exploitation of a real war going on in the Middle East. It was the most recent case of WWE and Vince McMahon using real-life situations to create drama rather than providing fans the escapist entertainment they prefer out of their professional wrestling.
CNN, NBC, ABC and FOX were busy providing harrowing imagery of Operation Desert Storm. Fans did not need the constant reminder that loved ones were overseas fighting for American interests. Rather, lighter fare would have been more appreciated.
3. Egomania Runs Wild (WrestleMania IX)
WrestleMania IX should have been the dawn of a new generation of Superstars.
Hulk Hogan, the golden boy of a bygone era, was relegated to the midcard while Bret Hart, Undertaker, Lex Luger, Razor Ramon, The Steiner Brothers and Shawn Michaels were given prominent spots. It appeared, for all intents and purposes, that the days of The Hulkster defining WWE had come to an end.
Like a cockroach in the wake of the nuclear apocalypse, however, Hogan reared his mustached head and proved that Hulkamania will never die.
Or some nonsense like that.
Just seconds after Bret Hart had been screwed out of the WWE Championship, a recipient of dreaded Japanese salt to the eyes by Yokozuna's cunning and devious manager, Mr. Fuji, Hogan came to ringside to check on The Hitman.
The mammoth new champion's bravado got the best of him, and Fuji issued an impromptu challenge to Hogan on behalf of his charge.
As every great superhero does, The Hulkster overcame an attempt at chicanery by the villains and vanquished the bad guy en route to his fifth WWE Championship.
Hogan celebrated his title win in the center of the ring as a show dedicated to promoting the future took one giant leap backward for all Hulk-kind.
2. Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero Celebrate (WrestleMania XX)
Elements of the above video are NSFW.
WrestleMania XX ended with Eddie Guerrero joining best friend Chris Benoit in the squared circle to celebrate their parallel rises to the top of the industry. Both world champions, their tearful embrace at the end of the broadcast was one of the most emotional moments in the event's long and illustrious history.
Three years later, it was essentially erased from WrestleMania lore by the actions of a mentally unstable Benoit during the final days of his life. The perpetrator of a double-murder and suicide, he was scrubbed from the history books as WWE attempted to distance itself from the star.
In the wake of its revisionism was a moment no longer celebrated by the company that produced it.
It still exists on WWE Network but is absent from Eddie Guerrero tributes and DVD presentations. It is no longer looked upon as an occurrence of two hardworking Superstars reaching the pinnacle of the sport to which they devoted their lives.
No, it is a black mark on WrestleMania history, a moment in time devoted to a man who tarnished his legacy with the most despicable act one can imagine.
Not present in any modern video package of the most memorable and emotional moments the event has produced, it is but a memory lost in the annals of time.
1. Brock Lesnar Ends the Streak (WrestleMania XXX)
Brock Lesnar makes another appearance on our countdown.
In 2014, The Undertaker's undefeated WrestleMania streak had reach such mythical proportions it became as valuable to the promotion of the annual extravaganza as any championship bout or grudge match WWE could produce.
Fans waited with great anticipation to see which Superstar would step up to the plate and challenge Undertaker on wrestling's grandest night. More importantly, they wanted to see who would join The Phenom's graveyard of those to have fallen at his feet at The Showcase of the Immortals.
Lesnar was up next.
The Beast Incarnate had made a name for himself since his return to WWE in 2012, pummeling stars like John Cena and CM Punk en route to a showdown with The Deadman. Like every other industry icon before him who had tried to blemish to Undertaker's win-loss record, he would surely fall prey to a Tombstone and have his shoulders pinned to the mat.
Until he did not.
Lesnar dominated Undertaker, tossing him around the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans with reckless abandon before putting an end to the 21-match win streak, courtesy of an F-5.
The shocked faces in the crowd are as memorable as the match itself. The silence that fell over the stadium was chilling. The haunting image of Undertaker lying in the center of the ring, a mangled mass of flesh at the feet of The Beast, is indelibly etched into the minds of fans.
Controversy does not begin to explain the feeling and aura surrounding the outcome.
Why did a part-time Superstar get the nod to end The Phenom's streak rather than a full-time Superstar who could benefit from it?
Was it the right ending, or did the official botch the finish?
Was there some sort of conspiracy to screw Undertaker out of his streak?
Over time, fans came to grips with reality: Lesnar had ended the streak. It was intended, and it cemented him as the most dangerous man in WWE. Most importantly, it propelled him to the world title, which he captured by obliterating John Cena months later at SummerSlam.
Desired outcome or not, it is a moment that lives in WrestleMania infamy and has repercussions that are being felt to this day.